The term back tension is used by many archers to explain their shot cycles and methods of triggering a shot. However, I feel that many use the term very loosely, not knowing a better description of their actions. I have watched and studied many top shooters over a period of about 15 years now and learned that many different methods of activating and firing a shot are very effective. I will not go into every style or technique here but will focus on the actual “back tension” of a shot.
In every shot some form of back tension is applied. During the draw cycle back muscles must function with the rest of the body to pull and hold the bowstring in position. Muscles and tendons that are attached to the shoulder blades work in unison with the arms, back and even neck. Holding the string at full draw also requires the use of back muscles. So if someone says they use back tension to shoot their bow, they are not entirely wrong. However, when someone mentions that they use it to fire their release, I like to see for myself. It can be confusing to the unseasoned archer who does not understand the terms or the conditions of actually firing a release using pure back tension. You see, in order for that to be achieved, there must be little to no movement throughout the rest of the body. The back muscles pull the shoulder blades together and cause the release hand to move in a motion that will fire the release. But once it is explained that the body must use the back muscles to draw and hold a bowstring at full draw it becomes a little clearer.
Let us start with triggerless releases. The term “back tension” and its relationship with archery most likely originated with this style of release. When drawing the bow back, the shoulder blades move towards each other causing the muscles in the back to tighten up. If you are using a triggerless release and know how to anchor very consistently, you can achieve a pure “back tension” shot without the slightest of movement in the release hand. I personally have shot for many years using a triggerless release. My personal shot routine involves a lot of hand rotation and I have found it to be very effective in hitting the middle consistently. Now, of course, I do rely on the tension of the back to hold the bowstring at full draw and to work in unison with the rest of my body, but most of time my release is fired and activated by the motion of the hand, not the working of the back. If you watch closely when I use my Scott Longhorn release, you will see my hand pulling and rotating the release. When I use a two finger Longhorn release, I relax the index finger and pull with the middle finger to activate the shot. Again, the body is using back tension, but it is not a pure “back tension” shot.
Hand held trigger releases can be fired numerous ways and are very rarely fired by pure “back tension”, even though it can be achieved. The wrist strap release is a style of release that can be very effective in pure “back tension” shots, but not many use it in that manner.
Through the years of my archery career and competitions, pure “back tension” shots have been few and far between. I have noticed that when I am holding very steady I can use pure “back tension” shots and be very successful. But day by day, the rotation of the hand work best for me. I find it is easier for me to repeat this action everyday rather than relying on my steadiness. I have also found that it keeps me from being timid with my shots when the pressure mounts, such as in shoot-off situations. Archery is all about consistency and I hope this helps you understand your shot a little better so you can become more consistent. Good luck!
When I begin practicing for the new year I spend a lot of time perfecting my shot execution before I ever start shooting at a target. I like to shoot blank bale for about a month before I start shooting at a target just to get the feel of the release in my hand again and what a good shot feels like before I start shooting at a target. I like to do this because when I start shooting a target I like for all of my attention to be on aiming and not switching back and forth between aiming and my release.
I shoot a Scott Longhorn set fairly heavy without the click. I do so because I like to relax my release hand as much as possible during the shot. I shoot a back tension release because I think that it is the best way to build the most consistent shot. I have the release set heavy enough that I have to move it quite a bit before it will go off. I shoot with a lot of movement in my shot as far as my release hand goes. Once I start moving the release and I get my pin on the target I don’t stop until the bow goes off. I don’t start and stop the release when the aiming dot is on or off the target.
When shooting a back tension release, I like to set it up without the click and with a fair amount of travel. This might not be the best setup for everyone, but way too often I see shooters trying to get the hang of shooting back tension releases and struggling to be consistent while trying to shoot with the click. The problem with the click for most people is that they don’t use it as a “setup” for the shot and essentially end up shooting the shot twice. In addition, the click often increases anticipation of the release, the same as it would if you had your release set very light. This is why I like to set my releases with a good bit of travel. Having travel in your bt release keeps you active throughout the shot process. I’ve seen many people who have their releases set rather light get themselves in trouble during a pressure situation. It’s very easy to execute good shots under perfect conditions with a light release setting, but when the pressure builds, it’s almost certain that you’ll get tentative and have difficulties getting the release to fire. Most of you reading this have probably had this experience at one time or another. My solution to this is the heavy release setting. Some might say that it doesn’t make sense that if you’re having a hard time firing a light release that it would be easier to fire a heavier one, but think about it for a minute….When your mind knows that the release is very close to firing, anticipation sets in and you become very tentative with the shot. On the other side of that, if you have your release set up heavy, there is no way the release will fire without getting aggressive with it. You’re forcing yourself to become active in the shot and not allowing yourself to be tentative. Again, this might not work for some people, but I have seen many archers struggling with back tension that would very much benefit from a heavier release setting.